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Academic says welfare payments to farmers are unfair.

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Thur sday 27 September 2007

Academic says welfare payments to farmers are unfair


TONY EASTLEY: Well despite some optimism among some producers, the drought, the Government says, is exception al, and as such, special assistance applies. 


But an ANU (Australian National University) researcher says farmers are being better treated than other battling Australians and she can't see why. 


The Federal Government's $714 million drought assistance package allows farmers to earn $20,000 off farm, before their welfare payment is affected. 


The ANU's Dr Linda Botterill claims that's a generous threshold amount, roughly twelve times what's imposed on others receiving welfare benefits. 


Here's Samantha Donovan. 


SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Dr Linda Botterill from the Australian National University specialises in drought policy and farm poverty. 


She says that when the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment was first introduced, farmers were paid at the same rate as other welfare recipients with the same income and assets test, although the family farm wasn't included in the test.  


But from 2005 farmers were allowed to earn $10,000 in off farm income before their welfare payment was affected. 


Dr Botterill is astounded that that amount has been doubled this week. She says that's about 12 times the amount other Australians are allowed to earn before their welfare payment is decreased. 


LINDA BOTTERILL: I don't understand the rationale for allowing them to earn an additional $20,000 a year and then receive a full welfare payment on top of that. If the welfare payment is intended to be that, it seems to me that it is only reasonable that it be offered to farmers on welfare at the same rate that it's offered to others in the community.  


The issue that they are farmers and not other members of the community shouldn't be relevant when we're talking about meeting day-to-day household needs. Their farm businesses are being catered for through other exceptional circumstances programs. 


SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Linda Botterill says the different earnings thresholds may not even be a deliberate policy decision. 


LINDA BOTTERILL: I think part of it is that most of our welfare policy is developed in one government department, but when it comes to farm welfare policy, it's developed in another department entirely. 


SAMANTHA DONOVAN: But Federal Agriculture Minister, Peter McGauran, says there's extensive consultation between government departments. And he argues there's good reason to allow farmers to earn more than other Australians before their welfare payment is affected. 


PETER MCGAURAN: Given the length and severity of the drought, we now link off farm income to the farm business itself. After all, these farm businesses are earning no income themselves, and yet they've got costs such as fixed water charges, local government rates, or lease payments on machinery or the like. 


So that is the connection. And by allowing those with off farm income entitlement to income support, we can provide security for the family's basic needs. 


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Agriculture Minister, Peter McGauran, speaking with Samantha Donovan.